Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reflecting on Tom Watson and Lance Armstrong

As I reflect on a couple of the most significant stories in the sports world today, I can’t help but feel a bit down. The stories about Tom Watson and Lance Armstrong fascinated us so much not just over whether they would win the events they were in. Instead it was about what they accomplished at their relatively advanced ages.

Tom Watson, who is a five time winner of the British Open golf tournament so many years ago was in contention to win his sixth. It was considered one of the great stories in sports when Jack Nicklaus won his sixth Masters title at age 46. Watson is just a few months short of age 60. By comparison, there are few golfers at that age who are even competitive in the Champions Tour over-50 tournaments, let alone against the best in the world in their primes.

Watson came so agonizingly close. His approach on the final hole of regulation was heading right over the flag but his adrenaline probably caused him to hit it a little too far leaving an awkward comeback shot. His nerves finally gave out on a nine foot putt to win and did not even come close. In the resulting 4 hole playoff, the younger Stewart Cink clearly had more left in the tank and won easily.

So should we feel bad for Watson losing or feel good for his magnificent effort in coming close?

Meanwhile in the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong had his own magnificent effort. After winning the Tour an unprecedented seven times in a row, Armstrong had nothing left to prove in the world of cycling and decided to retire from the sport. But as I wrote in a previous posting,
Why We All Need Balance it can be especially difficult for those who have reached the pinnacle of their fields to be able to walk away and still find meaning in their lives. So incredibly, Armstrong at age 37 decided to make a comeback to race in the Tour de France once again after being away for 4 years.

But was he really there to win or just make a good showing considering his advanced age for this physically demanding sport? Armstrong with his performances proved that he is still among the world’s elite cyclists. But in the hill climb today, 26-year-old Alberto Contador, the 2007 Tour champion who rides on the same team as Armstrong pulled away from the pack
leaving Lance in the dust and forcing him to concede that Contador was indeed the best rider there and not him.

A day like this really shows who's the best, and I wasn't on par with what is required to win the Tour," Armstrong said. "That's the reality; that's not devastating news or anything."

He added, "I gave it everything that I had, and I wasn't the best."

In his previous victories, Armstrong was the star and other members of his team were the role players in helping him win. Now he must accept that he will have to be a role player to help his teammate win. Even if he is successful in doing this, will it have made his comeback successful enough to be worth it?

Because of the tremendous odds against these men because of their ages, I along with countless others were rooting for Watson and Armstrong to win their events. And make no mistake; champions like these are never satisfied with finishing second. But even these men know that their skills must inevitably decline with age.

So should we feel sad at their losing today even though both have had wildly successful careers? Or should we instead celebrate their tremendous efforts that came just a hair short of victory? Why not both?

But just focusing on who lost is tremendously unfair to Contador and Cink. If indeed Contador wins next Sunday at the end of the Tour as expected, hopefully we will remember this year’s Tour as the one he won with his tremendous hill climbing and not just the Tour that Armstrong lost. And Cink’s victory will hopefully be remembered for the magnificent clutch putt he made on the final hole of regulation and not just the Open that Watson lost.

When viewed in this way, all of a sudden I don’t feel so down anymore!

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